Things to Do in Ghana
Travelers in search of Accra’s colonial past will likely find themselves in the streets of Jamestown, a densely-populated fishing village located to the west of Kwame Nkrumah Avenue. The towering lighthouse, built by the British in 1871, is a popular destination among visitors who flock to this part of town seeking a touchstone to history. But visitors say this once thriving neighborhood is now worn down—gripped by poverty, yet still vibrantly alive.
Travelers can climb to the top of the iconic lighthouse, then wander the parameter of Fort James, a former prison built by the British in the 17th Century. These nods to the past prove popular destinations, but visitors say it’s the energy of the town and the sense of community that make this once colonial enclave truly worth a visit.
Lake Bosumtwi, Ghana’s sole natural lake, was formed in a meteorite impact crater 17 miles (27 kilometers) southeast of Kumasi, and dozens of small villages now line the shores, all surrounded by lush greenery. Since the 1970s, the lake has become a popular recreational spot, with calm water where you can safely swim. Since the lake has no surface outlets, the water level has gradually risen over the years, and the villages on its banks are forced to relocate further up the hillsides from time to time.
According to Ashanti traditional beliefs, the spirits of the dead come to Lake Bosumtwi to bid farewell to the god Twi. Since it’s considered sacred, there’s a taboo against letting metal touch the water, so locals may only fish the lake using large planks of wood.
The Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum in Accra holds the remains of Osagyefo (the Messiah) Dr Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first president and one of its founding fathers. A national park was built in his memory on the site where Nkrumah declared independence in 1957.
Along with the mausoleum where Ghana’s first president and his wife were laid to rest, there are also a number of fountains and statues around the site dedicated to Nkrumah, as well as a museum tracing his life. This features photographs of him with various world leaders, plus a number of his personal artefacts, including his desk, bookcase, and jacket.
Some museums draw travelers with displays of indigenous artwork and historical artifacts but the Ussher Fort Museum, located in a former European stronghold, attracts tourists on a quest to learn more about the dark history of West African slave trade. Paintings depict images of the once accepted industry and relics owned by captors and slaves line the halls, haunting visitors.
Since 2007, the Ministry of Tourism and the European Union have worked hard to educate travelers and locals alike on the atrocities rooted in the nation’s history. Exhibits include heartbreaking artifacts like shackles, as well as model slave ships and an homage to abolitionists who fought to end the inhumane practice of slavery.
After being enslaved in the western world, a group of about 70 Tabom people returned from Brazil to their home country of Ghana in the late 1800s. Upon arrival they built this empire-era house as an homage to their rich heritage, difficult past and unique traditions. Today, travelers can visit this site where returning families reestablished themselves as members of the community, and learned local languages and traditions, despite speaking only Portuguese.
The home, with its fertile plots of mangoes and cassava, also serves as a museum, with halls that display artifacts and images from the past, as well as outline the impact of the Tabom people on modern-day Ghana. These once oppressed people returned to Ghana with skills and stories, and introduced the art of irrigation, architecture, blacksmithing and tailoring to the residents of Accra.
For a taste of the African rainforest while in Ghana, plan a trip to the Owabi Wildlife Sanctuary outside of Kumasi. The five-square-mile (13-square-kilometer) swath of secondary forest surrounds a sizable reservoir and attracts a variety of wildlife, most notably some 160 species of birds. Many of the mammal species, like antelope that life in the sanctuary, are shy and difficult to spot, but monkey sightings are quite common.
From a historical perspective, the sanctuary is of interest because its reservoir, formed by the construction of the Barekese Dam in 1971, is the source of Kumasi’s water.
Whether you come for the wildlife, the scenic appeal or to see the source of Kumasi’s water, the sanctuary makes for a pleasant escape from the often overwhelming clamor of Kumasi.
Spanning about four acres (1.6 hectares) of wetlands just beyond Accra city limits, the slum of Old Fadama—also known as Agbogbloshie—is home to some 40,000 Ghanaians living in extreme poverty. While living conditions are challenging in one of West Africa’s largest slums, members of this innovative community use discarded machinery, appliances, and old computers to forge a living through creativity, ingenuity, and a positive outlook toward improving their neighborhood.
Kejetia Market, the commercial heart of Kumasi, is considered the largest open-air market in West Africa. Each day, some 12,000 stalls open for business, selling food, clothing, handmade glass beads, souvenirs, Ashanti sandals, fabric and things you wouldn't even know you wanted until you saw them.
Kejetia Market is very much a bustling local shopping hub, and while tourists do visit from time to time, they often find themselves the objects of curiosity. Despite—or perhaps because of—the congestion, jostling, noise and riot of color everywhere you look, a visit to the market remains one of the best opportunities to experience a slide of authentic Ghana.
While it’s perfectly possible and reasonably safe to visit the Kejetia Market on your own, enlisting the help of a guide who can explain some of the trade goods and help you bargain for purchases will enrich the experience.
The W. E. B. Du Bois Memorial Centre for Pan-African Culture is the former home and final resting place of American-born socialist, author, and civil rights activist, William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, who became a citizen of Ghana in his later years. Du Bois campaigned for African-American rights and was often referred to as the ‘Father of Pan-Africanism’.
The center, on the outskirts of Accra, was where Du Bois and his wife lived for the last few years of his life, and is where they are now both buried. Along with the couple’s mausoleum, the site features his personal library, as well as a museum with a number of Du Bois’ personal belongings on display. Surrounding the mausoleum is a restaurant, an amphitheater and a research institute dedicated to Pan-African history.
Opened on the eve of Independence Day back in 1957, the National Museum of Ghana has become a staple for travelers and locals looking to learn more about the rich history, colorful culture and unique traditions of a country and people in the midst of constant change.
Three major galleries highlight artifacts from ancient and contemporary Africa. Historic sculptures are displayed alongside the works of modern West African artists. Travelers can wander the halls decorated with traditional attire and handcrafted instruments, impressive and ornate chiefs’ regalia, and bronze statues from neighboring countries. A unique sculpture garden displays life-size 3-D images of Kawme Nkrumah, the nation’s first president, and other political figures. The library, conservation laboratory and education hall are also popular stops on a tour of the National Museum of Ghana.
More Things to Do in Ghana
Stationed in the heart of Accra, this bustling market’s kinetic vibe has an energy that’s uniquely its own. Whether it’s discarded car parts, fresh produce, pots, medicine, plants or giant land snails, Makola Market sells practically everything under the sun.
The market also holds some historical significance. Established in 1924, Makola was the first wholesale and retail spot in Accra, making it a staple of both community and commerce. In 1979, it was destroyed by the government in hopes of improving local economy, but was quickly brought back to life by citizens eager to trade. Today, Makola is one of the most popular markets in Accra and travelers claim it’s possible to get just about anything, from anywhere, in its hundreds of hot, crowded stalls.
Located about five minute’s walk from the Kejetia Market in Kumasi sits the Centre for National Culture. Established in 1952 as one of Sub-Saharan Africa’s first cultural centers, the complex offers visitors to Ghana a good crash course in Ashanti culture.
Start with a visit to the Prempeh II Jubilee Museum, which highlighting the history of Ashanti through its collection of antique relics and memorabilia, including King Prempeh II’s war attire, old brass weights used for gold trading and a 300-year-old treasure bag.
At the Craft Centre, visitors can observe artisans using traditional methods to craft kente cloth, brass items and pottery, while the neighboring gift shop sells many of these items at reasonable prices.
Built by the British in 1673, the now decaying Fort James serves as a reminder of former colonial rule. The trading post operated as a prison until 2008, when local investigators discovered the structure, which was built to house just 50 people, was actually holding more than 1,000—sometimes 90 inmates to a single room.
Today the defunct penitentiary attracts visitors looking to learn about the nation’s past and explore the haunting life of those who were convicted, but due to human rights concerns, Fort James no longer serves as a functional Accra prison.
Known by locals as Black Star Square, Independence Square is located in bustling Accra and serves as a tribute to the nation’s inspiring past. Commissioned by Ghana’s first president in 1961 to pay homage to Queen Elizabeth II, Independence Square is the second largest city square in the world. Its well-manicured grounds, towering fountain, Black Star Gate and Independence Arch prove an impressive destination and popular backdrop for photos in the nation’s capital city.
Travelers who arrive near the March 6 Independence Day Parade can catch all the wonder from one of the square’s 30,000 seats. Visitors arriving other times of year still have a chance to see public gatherings and national festivals that take place at this hub of city life.
In 1925, the British government built the Manhyia Palace as a home for Prempeh I upon his return from exile in the Seychelles, and it remained a royal residence for Prempeh I and Prempeh II until the early 1970s.
Today, the Asantehene’s Palace houses the Manhyia Palace Museum, opened in 1995 to display the residence’s original furnishings and royal memorabilia, including Asanteman’s first television and wax statues of several kings and queens of Ashanti. Besides the museum collection, the building itself is a good example of traditional Ashanti architecture from the turn of the century.
During the 18th century, the Kingdom of Asante near present-day Kumasi was among the wealthiest and most powerful kingdoms on the African continent. To the northeast of Kumasi, the last remnants of this grand civilization remain: the UNESCO-listed Asante Traditional Buildings.
A series of about 10 mud, wood and straw houses and shrines built around courtyards were used primarily for religious purposes, and you can still see the religious motifs in the beautiful bas-reliefs that cover the walls. Due to the delicate materials used to construct the houses, they’re susceptible to weather damage, and for years, the structures were cared for by master craftsmen. In the mid-1900s, the government took over the structures, and today you’ll see sturdier materials (corrugated roofing and the like) in place of the traditional ones.
In 1820, Ashanti king Osei Tutu Kwamina built the Kumasi Fort in the likeness of forts built by European merchants in Africa. After being destroyed by the British in 1874, the fort was completely rebuilt in 1897. Then, during World War II, the British government took control of the fort and converted it into a museum.
Today, the Kumasi Fort and Military Museum displays a collection of war weapons, medals, photographs, anti-aircraft guns and other artifacts from both the British-Ashanti war and World War II. Guided tours of the museum help bring to life Ghana’s storied military past, with in-depth explanations about the long and not always pleasant relationship between Ghana and Great Britain.
Though slightly smaller in size than the iconic Makola Market, Salaga Market somehow harnesses the same energy and intensity of Accra’s largest center for commerce, but in much tighter quarters. Travelers say they can find anything under the sun—from herbal remedies used by local medicine men to handcrafted instruments, brightly colored jewelry, pots, pans and even building supplies.
Wander the stalls of this bustling marketplace and sample some of the steaming hot dishes prepared by the expert hands of local cooks. Then cool off with tall glasses of “palm wine”—a local concoction of creamy condensed milk toffee and pungent herbs that’s a favorite with the women here.
Better known by locals as Old Accra, the Ga Mashie district of the city is home base for Ghana’s Ga people, the original settlers of the capital. This relatively small geographic area is rich with national culture, history and heritage, including Ussher Town and James Town. These densely populated fishing villages may be economically deprived, but their iconic structures from the colonial era and kinetic energy make Ga Mashie a destination for travelers.
The district lies between the Densu River and the Chemmu lagoon, just north of the Atlantic Ocean. Visitors can explore the bustling fishing villages, where men are taught to weave nets and hallow canoes by hand. Or visit with the artisans, carpenters, masons and tailors who while away the day using ancient methods and long-perfected techniques. An afternoon in Ga Mashie puts travelers in touch with Ghana’s age-old traditions, right next to its thriving new economy.
As the second busiest city in Ghana after the capital, Kumasi has developed a thriving nightlife scene, and one of the top hot spots for weekend people-watching or after-dark drinks is Bantama High Street. This stretch of road is lined with open-air pubs serving libations and kebabs, and it’s particularly lively from Thursday through Sunday.
While not exactly a chic nightlife destination (plastic chairs and tables along the sidewalk are the norm) it’s a fun and relaxed area to enjoy a drink and the atmosphere of local Ghanaian nightlife.
Located within the National Cultural Centre, the Prempeh II Jubilee Museum tells the story of the Asante Kingdom, a state among the most powerful and wealthy in Africa at its pinnacle of power in the 18th century.
The small museum showcases a selection of artifacts and memorabilia relating to the Asante people and royalty. Items of note include Asante King Prempeh II’s war attire and ceremonial outfits, palace furnishings, jewelry and royal insignia. You’ll also find a recreation of the Golden Stool, the literal seat of power of the Asante Kingdom and an item that sparked the final conflict between the British Imperial government and the Asante Empire.
Also on display is a 300-year-old leather treasure bag, once presented to the king by a fetish priest, though no one knows what’s inside, as local lore says that opening the bag would bring the downfall of the Asante nation. The entire collection is housed within a reproduction of a traditional Asante regalia house from the 19th century.
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